Vampires are no longer scary. In last week’s blog, I traced the path that has led us down this unforgivable (to a horror fanatic) chain of tales to the situation now where a vampire is merely another angst-ridden young adult feeling marginalized by the society around them. The Cullens (Twilight Saga) are almost the kind of people you would like to have dinner with (as long as you are not the main course). You feel sorry for Gary Oldman’s Dracula because he is doing everything for LOVE. Vampires seem to be only dangerous to other vampires. The Originals was nothing more than a vampire version of Dynasty.
What would it take to make vampires scary, again? Well, first of all, they would have to lose the “good-guy” image. From ancient Mesopotamia 6000 years ago, until relatively recently, vampires were monsters. They were the top of the food chain and humans were their prey. We need to make vampires monsters again.
Granted, this poses a problem. It’s going to call for a new mindset, or, rather, a mindset that returns to values held by previous generations. It calls for a delineation between good and evil, a realization that some things are black and white with no shades of gray. Evil in any form cannot be explained away. You need to FEAR evil. Vampires were once the epitome of evil. They killed without remorse then desecrated the dead by having imbibed the blood of their victims. They were a power that the average person could not overcome. You needed specialized knowledge and specialized weapons to stop the vampire dead in its tracks. (Pun intended.)
But above all, vampires need to recapture the unpleasant emotions linked to danger: pain and extreme harm. The people in the stories need to be running away from the vampire and not running to it. Some of those people will have to die and die horribly in order to get the point across of just how evil a vampire is. And that will make your vampire hunters all the more heroic, because with a totally evil vampire comes a true definition of heroism (another concept we are short on, in this day and age.)
The hero is as much a folkloric character as is the vampire; in a sense, you can’t have one without the other. He or she is the person who steps in the gap to fight a battle that they have no chance of winning in order to protect people that they sometimes don’t even know. They recognize that it is their duty, their calling, their fate, if you will, to sacrifice themselves for the greater good. I am not talking about some screaming virgin tossed into a volcano to appease an angry god, or a young maiden tied to a stake to be eaten by a dragon or scooped up by the likes of King Kong. I am talking about someone who walks towards the danger knowing that they might not be walking back.
A scary vampire story is metaphor for good vs. evil. Once upon a time, we believed in Evil. Various religions even gave it a name. We even celebrate a holiday (Halloween) which began as festival to keep evil at bay. Now, it’s just a night for children to get candy and dress up. We have forgotten that people were scared in real life and wanted relief from the horrors of world events. Horror, then, is an escape from reality. But what scares us now?
To make a vampire scary again, an author needs to discover what scares us today, and embody that in the vampire character. The author needs to make the reader sitting at a table at their favorite coffee shop look over their shoulder and wonder about the person sitting behind them. Is it safe to leave your table? Is it safe to walk to your car? Do you need to look into the backseat before you get in, even though you know it’s empty (or supposed to be)?
With all the social issues of the 21st-Century, it would be easy to play on real-life horror to embody a vampire’s evil nature. Vampires have, after all, been used as metaphor for drug addiction and substance abuse, physical trauma, the outsider, immigration laws and policies, and so much more. Why not use the vampire to reflect our present-day issues, like human trafficking, opioid addiction, the pandemic, governmental greed, immigration, racism, women empowerment, the dysfunctional family unit, religion or lack of religion, and tolerance? Any one of these topics is a sensitive topic in today’s society, and thus important to us – global humans. By embodying the vampire with the evil traits of these devastating issues, we can reflect society, use vampire as metaphor, and fill the vampire with dread once again, the evil necessary to make vampires scary again.
For anyone interested in writing scary vampire stories, focus on the thought that vampires need to recapture the feeling of dread. Dread: to anticipate with great apprehension or fear. When you really dread something, you get weak at the knees and there is a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach. You do not want to confront or have anything to do with what is making you feel that way. At its very essence, dread makes you want to flee, and as quickly as possible. Your characters are going to have to dread the presence of the vampire. Even the people hunting it are going to have to overcome their basic primal fears of being eaten alive just to go up against one. And the most dreadful fact of all is that some won’t survive.
So, what is going to be the new evil? Here in The Dark Forest, we would love to know. What do you think needs to happen for vampires to regain their horror and fear factor? Do you have a favorite vampire character that still gives you chills or goosebumps? Share your thoughts in the comments below to let your voice be heard. We’re listening!
A challenge to writers, poets, and artists: THE DARK SIRE is looking for vampire tales that bring back the scary vampire. Submit your evilest vampire short stories, novellas, poems, art, and screenplays for inclusion in Issue 9 – our 2nd year anniversary issue! Simply visit darksiremag.com/submissions.html. Together, we can strike fear in our readers, one page at a time.